In this article from the Stuttgart Daily Leader on September 9, Dr. Creshelle Nash, medical director for Health Equity and Public Programs at Arkansas Blue Cross and Blue Shield, discusses the importance of COVID-19 vaccines in Arkansas’ rural areas.
Arkansas is a special place, with a rich history and diverse landscape. This is particularly true across the Arkansas Delta region, where culture and values blend into something unique. While our history defines who we are, our future will be shaped by innovation and opportunity, both of which depend on good health.
Many people throughout the Delta face barriers to good health. Access to nutritious food, behavioral health resources and safe housing influence health. And these factors can be just as important as treating diseases like diabetes and high blood pressure.
These barriers existed before COVID-19, but the pandemic has made matters worse. Not only is the virus a risk to health (particularly with the rise of the fast-spreading and ironically named COVID-19 delta variant), but isolation and economic hardship have made access to good health even harder.
This is particularly true in Arkansas’ Delta region, where health disparities are quite stark, especially for communities of color. These systemic disparities fuel further skepticism of health programs and limit access to potentially life-saving care, including COVID-19 vaccinations.
Vaccination against COVID-19 has been proven safe and effective in reducing the risk serious illness that can lead to hospitalization and death. Three vaccine options are available all over Arkansas and are provided at no cost – regardless of your race, your insurance status or where you live.
While the virus is a risk to all, data from the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) show that Black Americans are nearly three times more likely to be hospitalized from COVID-19. Black Americans make up about 16% of our state’s population, but they have only received about 12% of the state’s vaccinations, according to the Arkansas Department of Health. And overall, only 41% of Arkansas’ population is fully vaccinated.
The rising prevalence of the delta variant presents extra cause for concern. CDC data indicates that delta is more contagious and may cause more serious illness. Unvaccinated individuals are at significant risk of this variant, and since it accounts for 90% of new cases in Arkansas, it is more important than ever to get a COVID-19 vaccine.
Arkansas Blue Cross and Blue Shield has been working with state agencies, faith groups and other organizations to provide education and access. Our goal is to get enough Arkansans vaccinated to help end the pandemic. The statewide campaign, Vaccinate the Natural State, features special emphasis on rural communities like the Delta region.
As an Arkansas native and a woman of color, I empathize with others who are skeptical about getting the vaccine. I know our history and current challenges. But I’m also a physician who has been vaccinated, and I can assure anyone who has concerns: the vaccines are safe and reliable, even for pregnant women. Moreover, the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine is now fully approved by the federal Food & Drug Administration (FDA).
The risk of serious illness and even death from COVID-19 is real. Stopping the spread of COVID-19 can mean the difference between life and death for our friends, neighbors and loved ones. Please, do your part and get vaccinated against COVID-19.
Are you ready for your vaccine? They are free.
If you have internet access, go to the Arkansas Department of Health COVID-19 vaccination site map on its website (healthy.arkansas.gov). Some of the vaccination sites have links for online scheduling, as well as phone numbers.
If you don’t have internet access, call the state’s COVID-19 Call Center at 800-803-7847. A representative will help you locate a vaccination site and help you with scheduling.